QPR Report Twitter Feed

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Dismal State of QPR's Disabled Facilities and What Needs to Change

David McIntyre - Ealing Gazette

QPR’s billionaire owners are being urged to improve the club’s dismal facilities for disabled supporters.

Fans who use the wheelchair enclosures at Rangers have encountered a host of problems over many years as their club has fallen further behind others in terms of provision for disabled spectators.

It is a longstanding and important issue inherited by the new Rangers regime, and one it is hoped they will address.

They certainly have the financial muscle to do so - and have wasted no time in seeking to upgrade other parts of Loftus Road.

Several million pounds will be spent on improvements this summer, with the front of the stadium along South Africa Road set to be renovated and significant changes made to the corporate and directors’ areas.

Now the club’s disabled fans – some of whom have supported Rangers home and away for many years – are waiting for confirmation that they will finally get a better deal.

QPR’s stadium and financial restrictions have inevitably been used as an excuse in the past.

But disabled Rangers fans who visit other grounds point out that even many hard-up lower division clubs – including League Two neighbours Brentford – manage to offer significantly better facilities and are generally more helpful.

There are at last plans in the offing to deliver long-overdue changes at Rangers, although disabled supporters have heard similar assurances before and can be forgiven for feeling cynical.

As well as many years of assurances that have resulted in little or no change, a number of Rangers’ disabled fans speak of their letters going unanswered and numerous problems supporting their team.

But the supporters’ trust, QPR 1st, are hopeful that the new board have the will as well as the obvious financial ability to act.

“QPR1st has worked with our colleagues in other supporters groups, as well as disabled supporters themselves, to ensure that the club is fully aware of the difficulties disabled supporters face,” said QPR 1st chairman Stephen Dedridge.

“The response we have received has been positive. We have been promised further consultation and we are confident that the club now has both the determination and the financial resources to sort this matter out.

“This is a problem the current board have inherited so we don’t want to be critical of them, but we will be if they do not address it.”

There are two wheelchair sections at Loftus Road; one in the corner of the Ellerslie Road stand and the other in the corner of the west paddock. Both are next to the School End of the ground in which away fans are seated.

A few of the many problems identified by disabled fans include:

Feeling isolated from the matchday experience and other QPR fans, sat furthest away from the Loft End in the poorest part of the stadium for atmosphere

Abuse and even coin-throwing from away fans

Feeling vulnerable when tempers between rival supporters flare and generally feeling like a “buffer” between home fans and away fans

Getting wet whenever it rains because the disabled sections are not covered by the roofs on each stand

Unlike at most other grounds, fans in the wheelchair sections at Rangers usually cannot sit with friends or family, who need tickets for the seating areas behind them in order to be nearby.

Getting refreshments unassisted is a logistical nightmare, as is getting around the club shop, while getting to the box office is impossible because it is inaccessible for wheelchairs.

The executive boxes, enjoyed by many fans if only as an occasional treat, is another no-go area because wheelchair access is again impossible.

Parents of severely disabled Rangers supporters have also encountered some appalling problems and fans who do not have season tickets find it increasingly hard to get to matches because of limited wheelchair space.

Ironically, QPR were one of English football’s pioneers when they incorporated a wheelchair section into their ground in the early 1980s.

But, as with several other aspects of the club, Rangers have stood still over the years and been overtaken.

Wheelchair facilities at Loftus Road are of virtually the same standard now as they were many years ago, while other clubs have made huge strides.

Rangers did look set to finally take action in 2005, when plans were drawn up to build a new wheelchair section in the School End – an option which has also been assessed by the current board.

Back then, a boardroom coup effectively led to a change of regime at QPR and the plans were later scrapped.

Financial reasons were again given, although the expected cost of the project – around £80,000 – was much less than was spent that summer on players who failed to impress.

The location of the current wheelchair sections is undoubtedly the most pressing problem, and a new facility away from the School End would bring wheelchair users into the main body of Rangers supporters on matchdays.

But as well as financial priorities, it is also presumed that fans who would be affected by such a change would be reluctant to give up their seat in order for a new wheelchair section to be created.

Club chairman Gianni Paladini is aware of the problems facing disabled Rangers fans and has spoken to them in the last year.

His hands were somewhat tied, particularly after the Monte Carlo-based group who owned Rangers prior to last year’s takeover stopped funding the club.

But with Rangers now cash-rich, with plans to spend more in the transfer market and improve other areas of the stadium, there can be no more excuses.

“QPR has both a moral and a legal duty to ensure disabled supporters are able to access the club's facilities,” Dedridge added.

“Unfortunately, in the past, the needs of disabled supporters have not been properly addressed and it now shows in a provision which is, frankly, of a poor standard.

“We look forward to the day when QPR does not merely meet the minimal legal requirements, but sets the standard for other clubs to follow.”

Blog Archive